My introduction to “serious” Philippine fiction was reading “A Night in the Hills” by Paz Marquez Benitez in my older brother’s copy of Philippine Prose and Poetry (I can’t recall which volume) during the war years.
Of course in grade school we had the Camilo Osias’ Philippine Reader but “A Night in the Hills” was the most memorable Filipino short story I read—leaving a profound effect on me.
Months later when the family had to go to the hills of Sorsogon, to hide in a kaingin (supposedly away from the war), I would remember her story: the narrator’s first encounter with the forest, brooding and full of strange sounds.
Paz Marquez Benitez is best known as the author of “Dead Stars,” (1925) which literary historian and critic Leopoldo Yabes cited as marking the coming of age of the Filipino short story in English.
She taught short story writing to several generations of writers in the University of the Philippines until she retired and NVM Gonzalez joined the Department of English and took over the creative writing program in 1950, spawning successive generations of writers.
It is to the credit of ALIW (Ateneo Library of Women’s Writings) that the literary heritage of Paz Marquez Benitez as well as other distinguished Filipina writers has been well preserved. ALIW under the very able leadership of Dr. Edna Zapanta Manlapaz has held the Paz Marquez Benitez Memorial Lectures/Exhibits every November honoring the work of a Filipina writer in English. Honorees have included Benitez herself, Paz Latorena, Loreta Paras-Sulit, Estrella Alfon, Edith Tiempo, Carmen Guerrero Nakpil, Lina Espina Moore, Gilda Cordero Fernando, Linda Ty-Casper, Aida Rivera Ford, and Virginia R. Moreno.
The lecturers have been women themselves: Doreen Fernandez, Manlapaz, Ma. Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo, Ma. Luisa Camagay, Thelma Arambulo, Ma. Teresa Sicat and Aida Rivera Ford.
An ALIW honoree was Virginia Moreno whose lifetime’s work in poetry and drama was curated by D.M. Reyes who also contributed a lyrical/evocative essay tribute to Virgie entitled “Orfeo in Macao, Euridyce in Tondo.”
The invitation was for a Tertulia and Vin d’Honneur, the program marked by a Ritual (presided over by Felice Sta.Maria, Edna Zapanta Manlapaz, and ALIW board members) opening “the Poet’s intimate theater of lyrical voices and gallery of book art, photo murals, still life on a Café Orfeo table, collected inks, and writing pens on an antique Chinese desk, a small projector of moving images, and vintage music.” The exhibit was a visual and musical treat.
We in the RAVENS to which she belongs call her Virgie (the lone woman member of this shadowy writers group), the Gertrude Stein of writers in their salad days in Diliman. We remember the occasions she treated us to meals at her Tondo turn of the century house. When the Ravens went their own ways, Virgie always had a group to nurture at Blue Angel in San Juan, Indios Bravos, and later Café Orfeo in Malate.
At the Film Center which she developed and built over the years (against all odds) she had sponsored fellows for study of the film abroad—who had returned and built names for themselves in the art of film. I understand, the Film Center has been called Adarna Theater—glossing over the legacy of Virgie Moreno.